Claire stared into the mirror, scrutinizing her appearance as she had done so many times before. It was easy to do as so little of what she saw was what she wanted to see. She looked for the smallest detail confirming less divide between the internal and external person.
The stubble on her jaw stared back at her, refusing to go away even with the mountains of foundation and concealer plastered over it. The square features declining her pleas to soften. She had lived this way for a year already, waiting, always waiting, to be allowed to take the next step. She knew why they did it – the medical people - they wanted people like her to change their minds and go back to the person they were born as, but that was not her plan.
She sighed, lathered more foundation on, swallowed the hormone pills and plucked some stray brow hairs. The earliest appointment at the electrolysis clinic was tomorrow afternoon, which she had to take even though her morning psych exam would leave little time for her to get there. The treatments were excruciatingly painful, but worth it, she reminded herself.
She scooted sideways to view the tiny breasts in her side profile. The hormones were finally working, but wow were her breasts itchy all the time. She clipped her bra in place. Getting there, she thought.
She had errands to run for her mother in town, which made her shudder. She loved her mother dearly but catching the train meant she’d have to bear the staring and gawking of passengers. She was tempted to take all the makeup off and dress as a boy, just this once. It would make the trip bearable, but then they’d win.
The small-minded people shouting abuse or sniggering behind their hands would win and she’d never allow that. She thought about the old granny on the train last week asking if she was a drag queen. The rain was pelting down making lakes through town and Claire had barely made it on the train in time. She sat beside the older lady, smiled a greeting, and retreated into her personal bubble. “Excuse me but are you one of those drag queens?” the older lady asked Claire. The train was crowded but people closest had heard the exchange and turned to listen.
“No ma’am, I’m transitioning. It’s a long process and I’m between treatments,” Claire said.
The older lady gasped, and her hands shot up to her mouth, “no no no, that’s simply unnatural young man. God doesn’t make mistakes”, and with that the lady moved to another seat, far away from her.
The doorbell dragged Claire out of her memories, “Hello?” she said, followed by a friendly voice asking to speak to Claire. “I’m Claire,” she said, knowing what would follow.
“Sorry? Did you say you’re Claire? Um… ok sorry sir, I mean ma’am, I have a parcel for you,” the stumbling and stuttering was normal. The hormones couldn’t reverse the damage that puberty does on the male voice when it breaks, and surgery is risky and expensive and not always available. Claire let the visitor in and waited a few minutes to allow them to walk the two flights of steps to her door. This moment was even worse. The opening-the-door moment. She did it as quickly as she could, practically grabbing the parcel, signing for it, and flinging it all back at the delivery guy, and then quickly closing the door.
She sat and opened the parcel – fresh hormones, expensive ones. She finished her routine, ate some breakfast, and made for town. As expected, the stares and sniggers greeted her at every turn. It was better to turn away, but really, the misgendering was no walk in the park – he, she or it were the norm.
Oh goodie, I get to do this again tomorrow, she thought as she finished for the day and retreated home. She had studying to do for tomorrow morning’s exam. Final year criminologist here we come. She was going to change the world. She would pave the way for other aspiring varsity trans people.
She fired up her laptop and boiled the kettle. The tell-tale noises of emails coming through pinged a tune of their own.
Mug in hand and pretzel on a plate, Claire checked her emails. One screamed for attention. It was an email from her criminology Professor. She read the mail, then reread it. There was no ambiguity, no compassion, no sign of doubt. Simple and straight forward. She stared at the screen, her face beginning to flush, her hands shaking, her body going limp at the words screaming out at her.
“Dear Miss C Hudson,” the email read, “This email serves to advise you that the algorithm HonesTy1 has flagged you as ‘exhibiting suspicious behaviour’ during your final criminology exam last week. You will receive a zero mark for this exam, and you are to report to the Dean of Student Affairs for a hearing on the matter. You are entitled to have legal counsel present. Please see below for date and time of the hearing”.
Claire tried to reply to the mail to defend herself, but a simple automated response indicated that no further emails would be allowed.
She pushed her laptop away from her, trying desperately to separate herself from what was obviously a mistake. The ulcer in her stomach started to ache, the headache that had lingered on the outskirts of her mind came crashing to the fore demanding attention. She put her fingers to her temples, begging for an explanation.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there or how long her mother was ringing the doorbell, but when her phone rang, she snapped back to reality and answered.
“Claire, where the hell are you? I’ve been ringing your bell for fifteen minutes already,” her mother said.
“Sorry mum, I’ll open for you now.” Claire stood, but her shaky legs threatened to abandon the task and she leaned on the table. She felt the tears welling up and her nose turning red under her foundation. Her mother appeared at the door and grabbed her daughter and held her close and tight.
“What’s wrong? Sweetie don’t worry about people, they mean nothing. You must be who you are.” her mother had thought it was the standard bad treatment.
Claire led her mother into the study and showed her the mail.
“What is this?” she asked
“I’m being accused of cheating mum. I never cheat. I supported this algorithm because there are so many that do cheat.”
“I don’t understand Claire.”
“Since the pandemic started, we have been doing our tests and exams online because we can’t all be in the theatre or lecture hall together. So, the powers-that-be implemented a no cheating plan called HonesTy1 – with a capital T meaning trust or truth or something like that. I was all for it because I know there are people that cheat.” Claire said.
“How does it work?” her mother asked.
“When you log in to the test, or exam in my case, you click on the algorithm extension, and it opens your camera and microphone and logs your key strokes. That’s the extent of my knowledge. I do criminology for goodness’ sake not IT,” Claire said, pacing her living room.
“Honey, if you didn’t cheat, they can’t prove it. At least there’ll be a hearing where you can defend yourself. You can take a lawyer as well. “
“Mum, these hearings are formalities. It’s where student’s futures go to die. They have already decided my fate believe me.”
“Come on Claire don’t get down on yourself. You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are. You’ll go to the hearing and explain your position and they’ll all agree that there was some misunderstanding.”
Claire loved her mother dearly and knew that she had all the faith in the world in her. She had stood by her throughout the transitioning process and even paid for a lot of the procedures out of her savings. Losing this fight just made Claire so depressed. “Thank you, mum. I’ll put on the best face I can”
“Sweetie, just a thought but maybe you should appear as Calvin instead. You’d put them on the back foot, and they may feel more kindly towards a man?”
“Oh, come on mum,” Claire turned to face her mother, “really? Not you, please.”
“Hear me out. I have supported you since Calvin died so Claire could live and I’ve never questioned you, but I know these institutions; they’ve been around since Noah fell off the ark and they don’t like people who make waves so maybe, just this once you can go in and let Calvin defend himself and Claire can stay home?”
“No, absolutely not. I will not bow to these prudes. No matter what. If they’re going to boot me out because they don’t like what they see, then they can do it to my face”. Claire’s resolve was back. She would not go down without a fight.
She wore her best pants suit, navy blue, tailored with a loose lady-like white tie and heels. High heels. The highest she could find. She was already over 6 foot tall and now she was an Amazon going into battle. She marched into the varsity, straight past the information booth, watching the lady behind the desk momentarily rise to ask where she was going, then decided against it. She entered the conference room, where the Professors, Dean of Student Affairs and two others were already seated. She surveyed the room then took her place at the table opposite them.
“Good morning, Miss Hudson. I see you don’t have counsel. Are you sure you want to proceed without legal representation?”
“I’m sure.” Claire said. The two Professors sat either side of the Dean. Claire recognized the Dean from the photo that hung in the lobby. He was in his late 50s, greying but well groomed. The professor to his left sent her the email and he looked quite sheepish. She glared through him, wandering if this was all his doing. The other people in the room were female, probably another professor and secretaries. Claire felt the waves of hostility washing over her, her future bleeding out on the brown 80’s carpet.
The Dean read out her ‘crimes’, then played a 60 second video clip as proof. It showed her looking away from her computer screen, looking down at her lap or the table, talking out loud to herself.
“As you can see, the algorithm logs everything and is quite precise about your behaviour. We employ this method to ensure that human error is eliminated. Do you have anything to say in your defense Miss Hudson?” the Dean asked
Claire explained that she looks around when she’s thinking and sometimes, she fiddles with her fingers in her lap when she’s nervous. She reads the questions out loud to understand them better and not because there is someone in the room helping her. They never believed her.
“It is impossible, or nearly impossible, to prove a negative, but you all know that. For every explanation I have for my behaviour you can counter it without much thought. This isn’t about cheating. It is about you.” Claire pointed at each person in the room. Her face blazed red, her nostrils flared, and her fingers shook, but she stood her ground. “You simple minded fools; you live in your tiny worlds and expect what you’ve always had to remain the same. You expect me to sit like a mannequin, no, actually, you expect me to be a man, not a woman, not a trans woman,” she was shouting now, slamming her hands on the table. “I will not be society’s punchline.”
“Calm down Miss Hudson, you aren’t helping yourself by exhibiting this behaviour.” The Dean said.
“Don’t tell me to calm down. You’re accusing me of something I didn’t do, and you don’t even have proof that I did. You have nuance and innuendo. But I suppose that’s enough, isn’t it? I’m the very thing you hate. The proverbial elephant in the room. The boy that became a girl. And you can’t put me into one of your boxes because I don’t fit so you’d prefer to get rid of me.” The pent up anger from years of abuse came flooding out. Claire looked each person in the face when she spoke, making sure they knew who she was. And then security was there.
The tears streamed down her face as security led her out of the university, stripping her of her access card and ID card. People stared at her, whispered about her. Nothing spreads faster in a university than a secret, she thought.
Once outside, the pouring rain drenched her suit immediately. She could feel the layers of makeup bleed form her face, her mascara jumping the sinking ship. She bent down and removed her heels and made her way to the train station, keeping her head down to avoid unwanted attention.
Her anger and hatred slowly turned to sadness and embarrassment. She had made a fool of herself. She should have taken counsel with her. She shouldn’t have let them see her cry. Her feet were freezing by the time she got to the station and she was soaked through, but instead of going to the ticket counter she walked along the wall near the tracks.
She climbed over the barrier, out of sight of the waiting passengers and kneeled on the tracks. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander. It was finally over.